6 Tips for Doing Pro Bono Web Design
I'm a huge fan of doing pro bono web design jobs. I do tons of work for local Chicago non-profits and charities I believe in as a way to boost their design quality and website functionality where they would otherwise have gone with something inadequate. It's also a great way to flex my brain muscles and sharpen my skillset and do some good. For example, when I decided to learn Drupal, I took on a number of Drupal projects as a way to learn the system. That said, there are a number of challenges faced by designers when attempting to start a pro bono project. Here are some guidelines to make sure you and the client get the most out of the pro bono project:
1. Use a contract.
While no money is changing hands, it's important that the client has a binding contract which forces them to keep deadlines and helps them understand the process and appreciate the work you're doing for them. (Remember: paying or not, they really are clients!)
2. Set limitations and manage expectations.
As often happens when there is no contract, and sometimes even when there is a contract, you need to be very careful about making clear what you're delivering, what your role is, and what the client will expect. If the client thinks they're getting "a bunch of free work" they will often try to squeeze whatever they can out of you. Don't fault them, but don't let them. Deliver exactly what you promised.
3. Maintain creative control
When creating pro bono websites or other design work, I always specify up front that I value the client's input and will do as much research as possible. But at the end of the day, I make final creative decisions when it comes to pro bono design. I'm happy to help out, but I want to be proud of the work I produce. I've never had a pro bono client refuse that request - they're happy to receive whatever they can get, and they do really trust my judgment.
4. Set and keep a schedule
Believe it or not, even when they're getting something for nothing, people will drag their feet when it comes to doing their share. Usually, the trouble spot is getting content (isn't it always?). It's important to have a schedule set, and make sure they're aware of it. When it looks like things are dragging on too long, point it out, and tell them you have other projects coming up and you need to keep things moving.
5. Don't ever say the word "free"
The client knows they're not paying anything for your services, and using the word "free" cheapens your work. Pretend like it's any other project.
6. Send an Invoice
That's right, make them sweat! Send an invoice for the full amount of the project! Give them a call a couple days later and tell them you enjoyed working with them, you hope they're satisfied, and just disregard that invoice. They'll appreciate you even more when they have a full grasp of what they received!